National Park ServiceU.S. Department of the Interior
Hovenweep National Monument photo: Hovenweep House


In the preceding pages the author has considered several different types of buildings, which, notwithstanding their variety in forms, have much in common and can be interpreted as indicating an identical phase of pueblo development. A comparative study of their distribution shows us that they occur in a well-defined geographical area. In comparison with stone buildings in other parts of the Southwestern States, this phase shows superior masonry. It is considered as chronologically antedating the historic epoch and post dating an earlier, and as yet not clearly defined, phase out of which it sprung in the natural evolution from simple to complex forms.

These buildings express the communal thought of the builders, since they were constructed by groups of people rather than by individuals. Architecture representing the thoughts of many minds is conservative, or less liable to innovation or departure from prescribed forms and methods. These community houses express the thought of men in groups at different times, and, so far as archeology teaches, are the best exponents of what we call contemporary social conditions, while pottery and other small portable objects, being products of individual endeavor, furnish little on social organization, or general cultural conditions of communities. Although determination of cultural areas built on identity of pottery often coincides with those determined by buildings, this is not always the case. Specialized culture areas determined by highly conventionalized designs on ceramics are localized, more numerous, and as a rule more modern. Hence a culture area determined by architectural features may include several subareas determined by pottery.

The author has thought it possible to differentiate two distinct epochs or phases of house building in the upper part of the San Juan drainage, viz, the early and the middle stages of development. There are included in the early condition certain crude architectural efforts similar to the non-Pueblos represented in regions adjoining the Pueblo area. This early condition, though not clearly defined, is beginning to be revealed by intensive studies of the so-called slab-house dwellings and isolated brush houses. Evidences of this stage have been found in several localities, as on McElmo Bluff, or combined with walls of what may be called true pueblo buildings. The differences between some of the buildings of the early stage and those of the aborigines in southern California, or of the Utes and Shoshonean tribes, are slight; resemblances which point to relations are not considered in detail.

From their advance in house building, it has been commonly stated that the Pueblo people were either derived from Mexican tribes or, as was customary in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries to suppose, their descendants had made their way south and developed into the more advanced Mexican culture as the Aztecs. These conclusions are not supported by comparison with available architectural data observed among these two peoples. The basal error is the mistake in considering the earth houses of the Gila the same as pueblos. The habitations of the Gila compounds were structurally different from pueblos, and their sanctuaries or ceremonial rooms had not the same form or relation to the dwellings. The Gila compounds are allied to Mexican buildings; but there is little in common between them and pure pueblos. The same is true of the type of stone dwellings on the Verde, Tonto, and Little Colorado. Certain likenesses exist between the Casas Grandes of the Gila and those of Mexico, although little relationship exists between the temples or ceremonial buildings of the valley of Mexico and the Casas Grandes of the Gila. The architecture of the Pueblos and the Aztecs is very different; the habitations of Mexican tribes resemble those of the Gila. The forms [1] of ceremonial chambers differ, one being rectangular mounds or pyramids, the other circular, generally subterranean.

1Temples of Quetzalcoatl, the Plumed serpent Sun God, are circular buildings like towers.

Rather than seek the origin of the house builders of the San Juan, or the parent Pueblos, from Mexican sources, the author believes the custom of building stone houses in the pueblo region was not derived from any locality not now included in the pueblo area, but it developed as an autochthonous growth, the earliest stages as well as the most complex forms being of local origin. Incoming Indians may have introduced ideas of foreign birth but they did not bring in the mason's craft. That Custom developed in the Southwest, where we find the whole series from a single stone house or a cave with walls closing the entrance to the most highly developed architectural production north of Mexico. There are cliff-dwellings in many other localities in the world but there are nowhere, except in the region here considered, cliff-dwellings with circular kivas constructed on this unique plan. It is generally supposed that a type of room called "small house" was the predecessor of the multiple community dwelling throughout the Southwest. This type, defined as a simple four-walled, one-story building with a flat roof, is widely spread in New Mexico and Arizona. The strongest arguments in favor of its greater antiquity are possibly its simplicity of form and the character of accompanying ceramics—corrugated, black and white, and red pottery. Characteristic small houses of the Mesa Verde and McElmo Canyon belong to the same type of pueblo as the largest extensive villages which are more complicated than the so-called small house. It is what the author has called the pure type which is structurally different from the "small house," the so-called archaic form of the mixed pueblos of the Rio Grande. This unit type is likewise unlike the small house of the Little Colorado, including those of the Zuni Valley and the Hopi Wash, although the Hopi kivas show the influence of the Mesa Verde culture in the persistence of the ceremonial opening in the floor called the sipapu.

A cluster of small houses or the village such as we find at Mummy Lake on the Mesa Verde is composed of several scattered members, each containing for the religious and secular life the "pure type" rooms constructed on the same plan. In a village like the Aztec Spring House several unit buildings are united, forming one community house larger than the rest, which was the dominant one of the village, the remaining houses being smaller and scattered. Aztec Spring, Mitchell Spring, and Mud Spring villages show a similar consolidation of units with outlying smaller houses, and the number of units in such a union is believed to be indicated by the number of circular rooms, or kivas. Thus, four kivas might be supposed to indicate four consolidated social units.

The complete concentration of several unit pueblos into one or more large communal buildings [1] is also found in several cases in the area we have studied, but we must look to the great ruin at Aztec or those on the Chaco Canyon for examples of almost complete amalgamation. Thus these large pueblos where an almost complete consolidation has occurred have resulted from a fusion or condensation of what might have formerly been a rambling village composed of several separate units. This clustering of small separated houses in a village is not peculiar to the San Juan but exists elsewhere in the Southwest, as in the Rio Grande region, where, however, the structure of each component small house is different. These separate mounds do not indicate the unit type as defined, and the Rio Grande pueblo of modern date has its kiva separated from the house masses, which have grouped themselves in rectangular lines or rooms surrounding courts. There are, perhaps, examples in this region where a circular kiva is found embedded in house masses, but these are so few in number that they may possibly be regarded as incorporate survivals due to acculturation.

1The likeness of the Mesa Verde cliff-houses to the pueblos of Chaco Canyon was long ago suggested by Nordenskiöld. The excavation of Far View House proved that suggestion to be true.

In the Gila Valley compounds, as Casa Grande, and on the Little Colorado, the unit type is unknown. Several blocks of buildings on the Gila are surrounded by a rectangular wall which is wanting in ruins of the Little Colorado and its tributaries. Here one of the units may be enlarged, following in some respects the conditions at Aztec Spring Ruin. A surrounding wall also appears in some of the Pueblo villages and pueblos, but when we compare one of the units of a Casa Grande compound with that of a Montezuma Valley village, we find little in common, the main difference, so far as form is concerned, being the absence of a circular kiva. [3] There is nothing in a Gila Valley compound we can structurally call a circular kiva, and no morphological equivalent of the circular kiva in ruins on the tributaries of the Salt and Gila. On the horizon of the Gila culture area there are no circular kivas, due to acculturation. There are rooms analogous to kivas used for ceremonials at Hopi and Zuni, but they are not true kivas as we have interpreted them in the San Juan area. Both Hopi and Zuni are composite people and have elements derived from Gila and Pueblo influences, but neither belong to the pure type in the sense the author defines it.

2This subject is treated at length in my report on Casa Grande in the Twenty-eighth Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology.

The author has attempted to show that the structure of the houses whose clustering composes villages in the Montezuma Valley is the same as that of Far View House of the Mummy Lake village on top of Mesa Verde; and that these architectural resemblances are close enough to indicate that the villages of the two localities were inhabited by people of the same general culture. He has proved that the pure type of such a village as shown in Far View House was constructed on the same plan as a cliff-dwelling, notwithstanding one is built in the open, the other in a cave. The geographic extension of this type has been traced into Utah. Ruined pueblos on the Chaco Canyon or at Aztec on the Animas, which is geographically nearer the Mesa Verde, are more concentrated but indicate the same culture. Renewed research is necessary to determine the southern and western extension of the pure type; the northern and eastern horizon is fairly well known.

Granting that the great ruins on the Chaco Canyon belong to the same people as those on Mesa Verde, the question arises, Which buildings are the most ancient, those on the Mesa Verde or those on the Chaco? A correct answer to this question should reveal the cradle of the culture indicated by the pure or prehistoric type of pueblo. The author believes that the pure pueblo culture originated in the northern part of the area and migrated southward to the Chaco Valley in prehistoric times, ultimately affecting the people of the Rio Grande, where sedentary people no doubt lived before written history of the area began. The result was a mixture; the mixed population are the modern Pueblos.

In the great cliff-houses of the Mesa Verde and the extensive pueblos of the McElmo we find towers combined with pure types of pueblos, either simple or complex. In the Chaco ruins these towers are not found in this combination. To this may be added the great-house type of the McElmo, also absent in the Chaco. Here there appears to be an essential difference on which the author ventures a suggestion, but which future research must elucidate.

If this pure type originated in the southern tributaries of the San Juan as the Chaco and migrated to the northern we would expect in the latter more distinctly southern objects, as shell ornaments, turquoise mosaics, and a great variety of pottery of a southern type.

The pure or unit type is believed to be autochthonous in the San Juan Basin and characteristic of a middle phase of architectural development, the highest north of Mexico. It is self-centered and has preserved its characteristics over an extensive area, influencing regions far beyond.

The evolution of this type took place in the region mentioned before the fifteenth century of the. Christian era. Traces of its influence have persisted into the country of mixed pueblos down to the present time, but the architectural skill has deteriorated and shows evidence of acculturation [1] from sources outside the San Juan area where it originated.

1These acculturation modifications due to Hispanic influences in modern pueblos are too well marked to need more than a mention.

One word in regard to the adjectives, prehistoric and historic, applied to southwestern ruins. They are relative ones and obtained from data somewhat diverse in character. Casa Grande on the Gila was called a ruin when first seen by the European. It was inhabited in prehistoric times. From documentary evidence the historian learns that certain other buildings were not inhabited at the advent of the Spaniards, and if their statements are trustworthy these also are prehistoric. Legends of modern Pueblos claim that certain other ruins were inhabited houses of their ancestors before the coming of the white man. The author sees no good reason to throw this evidence out of court without investigation because some of the incidents in it betray late introduction. Many other ruins are classified as prehistoric from the purely negative, but not decisive, evidence that no objects of European make have been found in them. The ruin Sun Temple, on the Mesa Verde, is considered prehistoric from the fact that a tree with over 360 annual rings of growth was found growing on top of its highest wall. We are justified in calling this a prehistoric ruin.

The evidences that villages, cliff-dwellings, castles and towers, and other types considered in this article antedate the advent of the white man are as follows: No historian has recorded an inhabited building of this form in this or other regions; no objects of European manufacture have been found in them, and the buildings and pottery which characterize them are different from those of any inhabited when the Spanish entered the Southwest.

The complex, which is thought to be the highest form of pueblo architecture, is composed of the following elements united: (1) Several "pure types" [2] representing a religio-sociological complexion of the inhabitants; (2) towers of various forms—round, D-shaped, and rectangular; (3) the great houses; (4) unit type in cave. In Cliff Palace these four types occur united in a pueblo built in a natural cave; in Mud Spring Ruin two and possibly three of these types are found in one open-air village, more spread out as site permits. In Aztec Spring and Mitchell Spring pueblos the arrangement is more defined. In the cluster at the head of South Fork of Square Tower Canyon we have all the elements united in Hovenweep House and Hovenweep Castle. Unit-type House shows the single-unit type with tower near by; in Twin Towers we have the great house with cave pueblo and towers separated. Several other towers isolated from other types also occur.

2 The author uses the words "pure type" instead of "unit type" as a general term to denote "one-unit types, "two-unit types," "three-unit types," etc.

The Holly Canyon group shows the types separated. The great house is represented by Holly Castle; the towers are situated on huge bowlders. The unit type of this group is represented by Holly House, the foundation of part of which has fallen, covering the ruins of another pueblo of the unit type formerly in the cave below.

The Hackberry group is also composed of three elemental types separated; the great house is represented by Hackberry House, the unit type by the cliff-dwelling below and by the pueblo on the opposite side of the gulch, and the towers by isolated towers.

A similar analysis may be made of other ruins. Sometimes the component types are united; often one type only occurs, the others being absent. The union of all is best marked in the northern tributaries of the San Juan, as at Aztec, and in the southern tributaries, as at Chaco Canyon and Chelly Canyon. These pueblos, whether in the open or in caves, belong to the pure or concentrated multiple unit type.

Some light may be shed on the probable process of consolidation of the individual units of a community house by a comparative study of the pueblos on the East Mesa of the Hopi. Hano, for instance, was settled by a group of Tanoan clans about 1710 A. D. The list of Hano clans that originally came to the East Mesa is known from legends and the present localization of their survivors has been indicated in the author's article on "The Sun's Influence on the Form of Hopi Pueblos." [1] In 1890 Hano was composed of four blocks of rooms, each housing one or more clans. Earlier there were six one of which had fallen into disuse, a few less than the traditional number of clans. When the colonists arrived, they settled near Coyote Spring, the houses of which are now covered with drifted sand, but when they constructed their village on the mesa at the head of the trail each house of a cluster housed a clan. Increase in population, both internal and external, led to the union and enlargement of these houses so that they inclosed a central plaza. A similar growth has taken place in Sichomovi, the pueblo hallway between Walpi and Hano; first single houses, then rows of houses with terraces on the south and east sides. Some of the original houses have been deserted and rebuilt nearer the others. Thus at Hano the Katcina clan house was north and east of the chief kiva but is now in the east row.

1Amer. Anthrop., n. s. vol. viii, no. 1, 1906.

In the same way we may suppose that in a consolidation of a community dwelling several units may have drawn together and united. There is evidence of a union of this kind in many ruins in the Southwest.

The data here published should not be interpreted to mean that the author regards the builders of the towers and great houses here described as evidences of a race other than the Indians. Indeed he believes that in both blood and culture they have left survivals among the modern Pueblos. He also does not hold that as a whole they necessarily belonged to a radically different phase of culture, notwithstanding the buildings they constructed show a greater variety of form and masonry superior to that of their descendants.

The evidences are cumulative that there existed and disappeared in a wide geographical area of the Southwest a people whose buildings differed so much from those of any other area in North America that the area in which they occur may be designated as a characteristic one.

The variety and type of buildings have a bearing on social organization. A large building composed of many units is probably but not necessarily later in time than a single house; an isolated single house would probably be of earlier construction than a collection of several single houses of the same character compactly arranged in a village; a complete consolidation of several houses of such a village into a community house would naturally be more modern than a group of isolated single houses.

City blocks postdate hamlets. Between a stage indicated by single houses and one characterized by consolidated building, there is a phase in which the buildings are grouped in clusters and are not united. We may theoretically suppose that the single house was inhabited by one social unit as a clan or family. As the food quest became more intensified and defense more urgent, social units, as indicated by single houses, would be brought together, and as the population increased the amalgamation would be more complete. This social organization, in the beginning loose, in the course of time would become more homogeneous, and as it did so the union of these separate social units would have been closer; and if we combine with that tendency the powerful stimulus of protection, we can readily see how a compact form of architecture characteristic of the buildings here described was brought about. The element of defense in the villages with scattered houses does not appear to have been very important, but might be adduced to explain the consolidation of these into large community houses.

If the growth of the large pueblos has followed the lines above indicated, and if each unit type indicates a social unit as well, we necessarily have in this growth of the community house the story of the social evolution of the Pueblo people. Clans or social units at first isolated later joined each other, intermarriage always tending to make the population more homogeneous. The social result of the amalgamation of clans seeking common defense would in time be marked. The inevitable outcome would be a breaking down of clan priesthoods or clan religions and the formation of fraternities of priesthoods recruited from several clans. This in turn would lead to a corresponding reduction and enlargement of ceremonial rooms remaining. Two kivas suffice for the ceremonies of the majority of the Rio Grande pueblos; but Cliff Palace with a population of the same size had 23 and Spruce-tree House, a much smaller cliff pueblo, had 8.

One can not fail to notice a similarity in sites of some of the great houses of the McElmo to neighboring cliff habitations and a like relation of Sun Temple to the cliff-dwellings in Fewkes Canyon in the Mesa Verde. Possibly the purpose of these great houses and Sun Temple was identical. Some of the great houses were probably granaries and Sun Temple may have been intended partly for a like use. No indications of remains of stored corn have been observed in any of these buildings, but Castañeda [1] speaks of a village of subterranean granaries ("silos") in the Rio Grande country, which is instructive in this connection.

1Fourteenth Ann. Rept. Bur. Amer. Ethn., pt. 1, p. 523. This village is spoken of as "lately destroyed; " in other words it was a ruin in 1540.

 Previous  Contents  Next 
ParkNet U.S. Department of the Interior FOIA Privacy Disclaimer FirstGov